Citroen C4 Cactus review
The Citroen C4 Cactus features bold styling and a comfortable ride - and there's plenty of kit, too
The Citroen C4 Cactus represents a return to form for the French manufacturer – Citroen is back making fun, funky and unusual cars.
On paper the C4 Cactus looks like yet another crossover following in the footsteps of the popular Nissan Juke, but the Cactus offers more than the smaller Nissan, focusing on reducing weight and improving fuel economy as well as comfort rather than sporty handling.
Although the Cactus is similar in size to Citroen’s C4 hatch (hence the name) it’s actually based on the smaller C3. There’s still lots of space on offer, but the real headline is the Cactus’ quirky design.
With bold styling cues outside and a high-tech interior featuring two screens instead of a dashboard covered in buttons, the Citroen is less conventional and more individual in a class of identikit rivals.
In the past Citroens were always soft and soothing, and with the C4 Cactus the focus has been placed on comfort. It’s relaxing to drive and, although it doesn’t have the sharp-edge handling of some other supermini-based SUVs, it’s still fun to hustle down a country road.
That’s because Citroen has stripped out 200kg compared to the C4 hatchback, which gives the Cactus decent agility. It also means strong performance, and the three-cylinder engines punch harder than their power outputs might suggest.
The final benefit of cutting the kerbweight is improved fuel economy. Go for the most efficient engine in the range – the 99bhp 1.6-litre BlueHDi turbodiesel – and up to 91.1mpg with 82g/km CO2 emissions is possible, according to Citroen, meaning free road tax.
There’s one other diesel on offer, a less powerful 91bhp 1.6 e-HDi that comes with Citroen’s ETG automated manual gearbox, with the rest of the line-up comprising three-cylinder petrols. Power outputs range from 74bhp in the entry-level PureTech 75 version to 108bhp in the PureTech 110.
An automatic option is also available on the PureTech 82 engine, but all others come with a five-speed manual.
Our choice: Citroen C4 Cactus PureTech 110
One thing’s for sure, the C4 Cactus is a car that embraces the brand’s quirky past, and its proportions are starkly different to its class rivals. While the raised suspension is similar, the low roof, long wheelbase and rounded nose give the C4 Cactus a unique look.
The front end takes some inspiration from the C4 Picasso, with high-set LED running lights, while the main lights are part of large plastic housings, and the air intakes are positioned low on the nose. Further back, the rounded wheelarches feature plastic extensions, and behind this the sides of the car incorporate one of its big talking points – the Airbump panels.
These Airbumps are a first in any class, and far from being just a design feature, Citroen claims they’ll protect the bodywork from car park dings and paint scrapes.
They’re actually made from rubberised plastic cladding featuring air pockets that help to minimise impacts from other car doors. Like big bubble wrap for cars, it’s available in four colours (depending on body colour) so you can customise the look of your C4 Cactus, while the plastic cladding front and rear matches the Airbump panels.
At the rear, the flat tail features a large slab of plastic across the tailgate, which is a good thing, because it would look rather plain without it. Other design highlights include the substantial roof bars, while the optional red wing mirror housings and C-pillar stripes add a bit of colour.
Those C-pillars look thick from the outside, although they don’t spoil over-the-shoulder visibility. There are a variety of shades on offer, with buyers able to personalise their cars to a fair extent. You can go for a subdued colour or a vibrant hue to show off the Citroen’s unusual design elements.
Inside, the Cactus takes inspiration from the DS range, and features a stylish layout that has a premium feel. There are asymmetric air vents on the centre console, a top-opening glovebox, luggage handle-inspired door pulls, a seven-inch touchscreen and a smart looking oblong readout ahead of the driver.
The seats are comfortable, although the driving position is surprisingly low, so the Cactus doesn’t feel like a crossover at the wheel. In the back Citroen has fitted a single-piece folding rear bench to help save even more weight, but those clever touchscreens that control the heating, infotainment and other vehicle functions mean the interior feels far from basic.
Some of the plastics used lower down in the cabin look cheap, but everything you touch frequently – steering wheel, gearlever and door pulls, for instance – has a quality feel. you get all the essentials too, such as climate control, Bluetooth connectivity and a DAB radio.
The C4 Cactus is offered with a range of small-capacity petrol and diesel engines, with the 99bhp 1.6 BlueHDi sitting at the top of the range. While 99bhp may not sound like much, the Cactus’ weight-saving diet means the car’s performance is reasonable. It might not be electrifying, but we managed to sprint from 0-60mph in 11.3 seconds during our tests.
On the road, the C4 Cactus is a relaxing cruiser. The suspension does a fair job of ironing out rough surfaces, although big bumps do tend to thump through into the cabin. The soft suspension also means there’s a bit of roll in corners, too, but this is the trade-off for the Cactus’ smooth ride and it’s nothing too drastic anyway.
There’s decent grip and on country roads the Citroen is enjoyable to drive. It’s also quieter than many of its rivals at motorway speeds, but unfortunately it’s a bit of a letdown in town. The main culprit is the five-speed gearbox, as its widely spaced ratios mean you have to do a fair bit of forward planning, otherwise you’ll find yourself in the wrong gear at the wrong time where the engines don’t have much go.
This would be fine if the gearshift was positive, but the lever is spongy, so shifting feels like a chore. However, the C4 Cactus has sharp brakes, and stops well – again, helped by the 200kg cut from the Citroen’s weight.
Citroen’s vision for the C4 Cactus was to remove anything that wasn’t entirely necessary, so with pop-out rear windows, fewer buttons on the dash and no adjustability for the gearbox, steering and engine mapping, there’s less that can go wrong.
That said, the Cactus still retains most of the kit you’d expect from a thoroughly modern family car, including automated parking, a reversing camera, hill start assist, six airbags, a tyre pressure monitor and cruise control.
While the C4 Cactus is a new model, it shares a lot of running gear with other Citroens. It sits on an extended version of the C3/DS3 platform, while the standard touchscreen is similar to the one found in the new Peugeot 308.
There are new petrol engines across the Citroen range, and the BlueHDi is based on existing diesel technology, so should be reliable. Citroen has been trying hard to shake off its reputation for poor build quality and patchy reliability; so while its 20th-place finish in our Driver Power 2015 satisfaction survey doesn’t look that impressive, it represents a six-place improvement on last year.
Another by-product of cutting 200kg compared to the C4 hatch is that consumables such as the brake pads and tyres should function better for longer.
Unfortunately, though, Citroen’s simplification process to building the C4 Cactus has also caused it to score a disappointing four out of five stars in the Euro NCAP crash tests, with a low rating in the safety assist category – the Nissan Juke fares much better in this regard.
The rest of the Citroen’s standard safety kit is well up to class standard, though, and includes six airbags, stability control and cruise control with a programmable speed limiter.
Unlike some of its rivals that feature split-folding rear seats, the Cactus’ one-piece rear bench means there’s not as much versatility on offer here. But with a 358-litre boot with the rear seats up, there’s still plenty of space for luggage or the family shop.
This rises to 1,170 litres in total if you fold the rear seats flat, which is pretty much on a par with the Nissan Juke’s load bay.
Inside, the C4 Cactus feels fresh and modern, but that’s not come at the expense of passenger space. The low roofline doesn’t hurt headroom with enough space in the back for taller adults, while the long wheelbase compared to some of its crossover rivals means there’s plenty of space for lower limbs, too.
The top-hinged glove box means access is easy and the lid won’t bang your passenger’s legs when it opens.
Although it doesn’t explain its calculations fully, Citroen claims that the C4 Cactus will cost around 20 per cent less to run than a traditional family hatchback. The Airbump feature could potentially save you money on having small scratches and bumps buffed out, while the lack of weight saves cash on tyres and brake pads in the long run.
The most fuel-efficient model is the BlueHDi 100, which uses ultra low rolling resistance tyres to achieve an incredible 91.1mpg and CO2 emissions of just 82g/km.
The petrol engines aren’t far behind either, with even the most powerful PureTech 110 three-cylinder turbo returning a claimed 60.1mpg and 107g/km. It mixes this with a decent turn of speed for a family car, covering the 0-62mph sprint in a sprightly 9.3 seconds.
Citroen also offers a number of all-inclusive purchase packages on the Cactus that combine a finance payment, insurance and servicing costs into a single monthly figure, making the car more accessible.